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Catching Up With… Philip Clouts

Philip Clouts, promoter, jazz pianist and composer, based in Dorset. 

Sophie Wales catches up with Philip Clouts, promoter, jazz pianist and composer, based in Dorset. 

In this new series, we’ll be checking-in with promoters throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

On the record player when I was a child my parents had Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and some South African jazz records. When I was a teenager I saw a TV programme with Stan Tracey improvising at the piano in his spiky, very physical style and that set me on the jazz path as a musician.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Again thinking of pieces I discovered as a teenager ‘Andromeda’ by Chris McGregor, with its interlocking riffs and horn lines; and ‘The Windup’ by Keith Jarrett for its exuberance and propulsive energy.

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about it?

I think there’s a long back story which paved the way. I spent many years playing in a six-piece worldbeat jazz band called ‘Zubop’, and we did a lot of touring. I did most of the administration and bookings and found out early on that pretty much everyone involved in jazz is there out of love for the music, and it is in everyone’s best interests to make every performance a success for the audience, the band and the promoter.

During that time we also met a few people who had moved from being musicians to promoters (‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ as one of them put it) which made it seem possible, though it was only much later that I thought of doing it myself. Interestingly one of those promoters was at Bridport Arts Centre where Zubop was playing a concert, long before I moved to the South West myself.

I think being a musician really informs how I communicate with the bands that I put on as a promoter, and I’d like to think that my performing experience helps me anticipate what they will need and want to make for a good evening.

A few years back I had an opportunity to start a small scale ‘jazz café’ series in the café space of Bridport Arts Centre. Later I was able to start a similar one at another local venue, the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis. The Bridport ones are now in the main theatre space, and in Lyme I’ve sometimes put on larger events as well. I love being able to offer a space for a wide variety of music to happen, and the personal bonus is that I get to hear all of these performances myself!

Who have you been listening to recently?

There are a couple of Latin American pieces I have particularly enjoyed, having heard versions performed by vocalist Tatiana Parra: ‘Milonga Gris’ and ‘Choro Meu’. They are both real gems that pack a lot of beauty and complexity into a short space of time.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters and musicians adjusting to the new normal?

I am lucky in that we were able to put on live music at Bridport Arts Centre in October to a socially distanced audience. Of course our November event has had to be re-scheduled due to the current lockdown, but hopefully the December one will be able to go ahead.

I’m afraid that generally there’s no easy answer and we are facing very tough times for all of us. However I see a lot of adaptability, and venues and musicians doing everything possible to get the music out there.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

I have fond memories of the times I have played at the St Ives Jazz Club. They have a nice grand piano, and it really felt to me like a more intimate version of Ronnie Scotts. And Ilminster Arts Centre, again with a great piano and also very special acoustics in their church space.

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

There are many musical highlights; what comes to mind now is an ‘against all odds’ appearance when vocalist Rosalie Genay and pianist Rebecca Nash were touring their arrangements of Leonard Cohen songs a few years back.

They were booked to play on Valentines night, so all good, except it turned out to be the night of the biggest storm to hit the South West that year! They were travelling down from London, and incredibly managed to make it, despite road closures and fallen trees, giving a great performance to a very appreciative audience.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

I’ve been enjoying Liam Noble’s live streams on Saturday afternoons from the piano at his home-a great variety of material, beautifully played.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I think it’s become clear that there is a great appetite for music, and I think audiences are currently seeking it out wherever and however they can. Generally as a promoter I think one is often doing a dance which includes one’s own personal passions as a listener and also what time and experience shows audiences respond to the best. Luckily there is always a sweet spot in the centre of that notional Venn diagram, and room for excursions into the other areas as well.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes, I have written what you could probably consider a ‘lockdown’ piece, with a lyrical, meditative quality to it-at the moment I’m playing it as a solo piano piece. I’ve also done a composition which uses ideas from twelve tone music, which I am arranging for my quartet.

The Philip Clouts Quartet performed at London Jazz Festival on the 15th November. If you missed the performance, you can watch it here.

On Thursday 19 November at 8.15pm Philip will be taking part in a live stream presented by the Sound Cellar, Poole. This is part of their current online series “In Our Own Space – Music and Conversation direct to your ‘own space’ via Zoom.”

Philip will be playing a set of his jazz compositions at the piano (including a new meditative piece written during the past few months) followed by  a Q&A session where the floor is open to the online audience. More information and tickets can be found here.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 25th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… Marianne Windham

Marianne Windham, bass player, teacher and jazz promoter based in Guilford.

Sophie Wales catches up with Marianne Windham, bass player, teacher and jazz promoter based in Guilford. She is also the Chair of Guildford Jazz, and a co-founder and resident bass player at Fleet Jazz Club.

In this new series, we’ll be checking-in with promoters throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?

I had a previous life, formerly as a software engineer, then eventually as director of software consultancy, which I left 10 years ago. I’d started playing the double bass 4 years earlier, after going slightly-by-accident to a jazz weekend workshop, and a few years later I quit work so I could spend more time learning how to play and studying jazz.

I got into promoting rather by accident too – I’d just given up my job, and was told that the landlord of a local pub was keen to put on some live jazz, so I popped in to have a chat with him. He was very enthusiastic, and he’d recently had a room refurbished that he was very proud to show me.

I guess it triggered something in me – there was no-one else doing this locally as far as I knew and I thought it would be great fun to try it out, and to learn some new things in the process. It was a bit of a leap in the dark to be honest! Anyway it just grew gradually from there. I really love bringing people together and trying to give everyone a great evening.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’m listening to Joe Henderson while I’m writing this, in preparation for a live streaming gig with Nic Meier and Greg Heath on Thursday. Keith Jarrett has been on my playlist a lot this week too, and Mingus. And I’m never far away from recordings of Ray Brown…

How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?

Like everyone else in the performing arts world, we hit a brick wall when live performances were cancelled in March – particularly frustrating as it was just days before our inaugural Jazz Festival. After a couple of months of rearranging things, we went online, initially with a Zoom event with Art Themen for our members, then a couple of live streamed gigs at the Boileroom music venue in Guildford (those recordings are online here).

In August we held a couple of outdoor events, first a “’Jazz in the Garden’ gig in collaboration with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford , then our annual afternoon event on a local village green raising money for a local disabled children’s charity, Challengers (with an amazing audience of over 300 people).

Since then we’ve been back to twice-monthly live indoor gigs in a couple of new venues – running these events has involved a lot more work than normal but it’s been a complete joy to be able to make them happen.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?

I know a number of clubs have been trying to find ways to adapt for their own circumstances. We’ve been thrilled at our audience’s enthusiasm, and I’ve been determined to try and keep going as much as we can, putting on gigs in venues that able to accommodate us in a safe environment when we’re allowed to have an audience, and looking for ways to move it online when we can’t.

We’ve had enormous support from local venues and companies, as well as from the audience and musicians. It’s been good to talk to other clubs too, and it would be great to keep that conversation with other clubs going.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

Gosh, that’s a hard question! I really enjoy visiting other jazz clubs as an audience member and getting to know other promoters. The Watermill is probably the nearest venue to us and I’m a big fan of Kathryn’s programming there. I also like to go and see our friends at Jazz in Reading when I can.

As a musician it’s been wonderful to visit some of the other venues in the South and South-West like the Concorde Club, Bridport, Chichester, Marlow, Ashcroft…. I’m looking forward to visiting again when we’re all able to reopen!

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

It’s hard to choose, there’ve been such a variety of memorable gigs over the last nearly 10 years, at Fleet Jazz which I help to run, as well as Guildford Jazz.

Our first fund-raiser for Challengers in 2014 with Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams was maybe the moment when I felt the club was not only really established in itself, but had the possibilities of a wider reach into the community. It also very much involved my saxophonist friend Cheryl who we have since sadly lost but remains very much part of us in spirit.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Nic Meier’s weekly online concerts are great and it’s been nice to dip into the Ronnie’s livestream gigs. I guess we’ll be listening to more livestreaming concerts again now but I’m also looking forward to getting back to more practising too.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I’m gradually trying to widen the envelope of what people listen to, but as a promoter I think it’s my job to try and make sure everyone who comes to our events has a great time and I enjoy programming with all that in mind. I really enjoy going to other clubs and seeing how they run their gigs and to listen to other artists too.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 18th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… Tim Hill

Sophie Wales catches up with Tim Hill. Tim lives in Somerset and makes a lot of noise. He creates music for outdoor shows and celebrations, runs an improvising orchestra and plays baritone sax, sometimes he even plays a few jazz tunes.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

In 1976 at seventeen I brought a second-hand copy of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Live in Europe’. I had been reading Amiri Baraka’s ‘Black Music’ and the ideas of 60’s free jazz offered strange liberating ideas to a white seventeen-year-old clergyman’s son.

Coleman’s music was my first encounter with these new sounds and it was at first too much for my innocent ears. But one track, the ballad ‘Sadness’, and the keening sound of Ornette’s alto was compelling and entranced me, opening up a whole new world of sound and possibilities.

Ornette’s sound led me to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and the extra-ordinary generation of British free jazz and improvised music pioneers like Evan Parker and Derek Bailey.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

How about ‘Brooklyn’ by the Youngblood Brass band, wonderful, in your face, brass writing and riffing with a political edge.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I have been rediscovering Ben Webster, his gorgeous tenor sound and sense of melody and timing. I love the sound and the cry of jazz. The sound of Ornette, Hodges, Dolphy, Harry Carney, David Murray et al.

The intricacies of much modern jazz doesn’t do it for me; I want to be swept away in sound. During lock down I also listened to the sedge warblers out on the Somerset levels, the John Zorn’s of the bird world full of mad leaps and quick changes, noise and melody.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I first saw Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the Venue in 1980; an extra-ordinary cosmic carnival with explosive solos and guided group improvising, chants and dancing, synth storms, free jazz apocalypses blended with classic big band sounds.

We just had to stay to the end and then ran back to Paddington to get our train. The new album from the modern version of the Arkestra lead by Marshall Allen is wonderful too

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

I have been really enjoying the domestic insanity of Czech noise maker Petr Valek and his barmy machines and improvisations with amplified objects.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normals

Much of my playing is out of doors, in street bands and making music for outdoor theatre and celebration. The world desperately needs music at the moment and we should be out there playing whenever we can. It’s our role in the world and it’s great to get out there and play for people.

It’s tough of course earning a living and keeping our families safe but we need to lift people spirits. I loved the early days of the ‘Clap for carers’ when we got out there and made a noise with our neighbours before the controversies kicked in.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I have been working on the Wye Valley River Festival for many years and this year, despite the curtailed live programme, came up with the idea of a band lost in the woods. The band is called the Wodwos, and I wrote some music and arranged some folk tunes for it, the band also features the young drummer Jo Meikle and the wonderful trumpet player Stuart Henderson. We did some ‘long distance’ recording to develop the idea, which is nice but it’s not the same as playing together.

I did a recording session just before lockdown with live sound manipulation of my baritone sax by Colin Potter from Nurse with Wound and DroneCore veteran Jonathan Coleclough. I have been mixing and editing this material over the summer and will be putting it out on my bandcamp site this week together with the sketches by the Wodwos

It was also the chance to work on some of the research I do around outdoor music, seasonal celebration and the ways humans use noise in ritual. I did an online talk on expressive noise and wrote some stuff around the social history of Mayday and the ‘Thursday Clap for carers’.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

At the start of lockdown I lost my recording and practice space, and my wife had to work from home, so I mainly practised classical clarinet for the first time in over 40 years and played pretty tunes, no noise.

I have been busking with a great local street band called the Little Big Horns but the chance to get back to being a noisy monster again would be wonderful and also do some real improvising with other musicians. Web based music making leaves me cold.

I have been developing new ideas for an outdoor band, a sort of secular ‘gospel’ band, playing tunes for these times and called the Instruments of Joy. I am also very keen to get the Hullabaloo Orchestra back together; it’s an improvising orchestra open to all based at the CIC Centre in Taunton.

There’s nothing like the ‘aliveness’ of being in the middle of an improvising group.

To hear more from Tim, head to his bandcamp page or website.

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Catching Up With… Billie Bottle

Billie Bottle, composer, musician and singer with her own band, Billie Bottle & The Multiple and various projects with Kate and Mike Westbrook including the Jazz South commissioned Granite Band.

Sophie Wales catches up with Billie Bottle, composer, musician and singer with her own band, Billie Bottle & The Multiple and various projects with Kate and Mike Westbrook including the Jazz South commissioned Granite Band. She is based in Devon.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

In terms of improvisational spirit, I believe children are pre-programmed to it. Chomsky spoke about language being innate; I think this applies equally to the urge to make music. Practically speaking my pathway was through other related musics; 90s pop bands like Deee-lite and Jamiroquai on the one hand, and Kevin Ayers and Soft Machine leading to the endless chambers of the Canterbury Sound on the other.

Another formative event was hearing Van Morrison’s ‘Snow in San Anselmo’ – this fusion of choral music and hard swing blew my mind – and makes me think of what Kamasi Washington is up to now.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

The one I haven’t written yet? Pretty much all of Hatfield and The North and National Health’s albums are the tightest, intricate and most humorous writing I know, especially ‘Mumps’ from the former’s ‘The Rotter’s Club’ album.

These 20 minutes manage to combine space-rock with melodic neo-classicism. It’s a kind of jazz and prog yet neither of these things.

Who have you been listening to recently?

My listening habits are as varied as ever though I do go through phases where it’s not preferable to listen to anything but the music I’m making – those vibrations can be fatiguing!

When I do it’s recently been Thundercat, Galliano, Cardiacs, The Foreign Exchange, Meredith Monk, XTC, Kavus Torabi, Maxwell, The Orb, The Shamen and the birds outside the window.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Gosh – too many to list really. For music the ‘Soup Songs’ project which played the songs of Robert Wyatt is ‘up there’. So much range as a band and I particularly love Janette Mason’s piano playing.

For pure performance, Peaches last year at the Royal Festival Hall was incredible; a big, playful, ensemble show. Meanwhile, almost literally in a world of their own are Magma who have to be seen to be believed. Carl Orff meets John Coltrane – oh, and they sing in their own invented language!

Any livestream concert recommendations?

I haven’t really got into livestream concerts though I have been enjoying Mr C’s live stream. He always plays such interesting house music, shot through with invention, depth and groove.

Every Friday morning, my long-time bandleaders Kate and Mike Westbrook put out a new weekly video from their seemingly bottomless vaults. Always different; always Westbrook.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

My personal recipe is a combination of routine (whether practically or in psychic intention), raising energy by dancing even when alone, collaboration with other musicians and artists, experiencing nature and regular walking.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes – just a bit! I have just finished mixing our long-awaited album ‘The Other Place’ with Lee Fletcher which will be released in the new year. Meanwhile, our single, ‘Cogs’, will be released on November 6th by Bad Elephant Music.

Lockdown saw the start of a new project, The Temple of Shibboleth, with long-time collaborator, flautist and co-writer Viv Goodwin-Darke. We are currently sharing a house together and have just started rehearsals at a local stately home’s wonderful seventeenth century music room.

I’ve also been working at a distance with trumpeter Rowan Porteous in our eco soul jazz-hop project, The Other Way and continue my bass duties with Kate Westbrook’s Granite Band’s new recording, ‘Says The Duke’, which was kindly funded by none other than Jazz South!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’ll be continuing to write and record. When gigging is possible again, I’d love to put on an event which combines art, jazz, rave and circus…

To hear more from Billie, check out her bandcamp page and website.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 4th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… Karen Wimhurst

Karen Wimhurst, composer, clarinettist, and educator.

Sophie Wales catches up with composer, clarinettist and educator, Karen Wimhurst, based in Dorset.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz? 

Well, I was a very late starter! I grew up in the world of classical music and in my early twenties went to San Diego to study with the composer Pauline Oliveros. However, she had moved to New York (no one thought to tell me) so I found myself tossed into the world of free improvisation instead with Anthony Braxton and other fabulous players such as trombonist John Silber.

Having embraced a world of abstract electronic composition, this gave me a pathway back to playing the clarinet again.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

So many great tracks of course but what comes to mind right now is the really loud, left of field big band extravaganza version of ‘New York New York’ by Django Bates. It’s just such a witty, crazed, irreverent and masterful decomposition.

Who have you been listening to recently?

This week I’ve been listening to the Swiss clarinettist Marco Santilli, CheRoba (Lorenzo Frizzera, Ivan Tibolla, Fulvio Maras), lovely playing and carefully composed alongside Martin Speake’s Trio ‘Always a First Time’ (Mike Outram and Jeff Williams).

In the stress of Covid-19 I’ve been drawn to the mellow tracks on each album to keep calm! I’ve also gone unseasonally for Ešenvalds’ ‘Passion and Resurrection’, just for the beautiful choral writing.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I find it impossible to select one. However, in reflecting on this question, I found myself being drawn way back to seeing Astor Piazzola in the Tramway Glasgow 1989, just a few months before he suffered a heart attack.

It was just so extraordinary listening to the New Tango Sextet, musicians who had collaborated together for so very many years, performing with such passion and virtuosity! The gig was only half full as the extraordinary sweep of his fame didn’t really hit the UK until after is death. It inspired me to head to France and take some lessons with the composer Gustavo Beytelmann who spanned the tango/jazz scene in Paris.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Well, during lockdown I loved John Law’s gigs, a lot of his original material and such a wonderful player. The last one I caught up with was at the Soundcellar in Poole. The singer Helen Porter is also bringing out a new solo set which is sounding great.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

For me, the usual fine balance of being creative and earning money just went up a notch stress wise although, in my experience living has always demanded working with what ever is coming over the horizon at the time.

I did hear someone point out that this is a good time to take a Zoom lesson from one of your true hero’s/heroines! That seemed to be a very positive take on the situation!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Well, I’m just starting working on an improvised solo clarinet piece with backing called ‘Jump’ with the entomologist Peter Smithers. I’m experimenting with the calls of grasshoppers and crickets in the soundtrack amongst other things. It’s just something I hope I can perform to very small audiences and will take me through the semi-lockdown days.

I’m also getting Synthetica (a chamber opera) online in the face of gigs cancelled.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Hmmm. Up until Christmas I’m just sketching out thoughts and ideas in a fairly non specific way so as not to get over excited.  Paul Hutchinson and I are working on a second album ‘Pagoda‘ having had our Australian Tour scrapped this summer.

I’m also reflecting on the philosopher David Abrams’s work ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ and ‘Becoming Animal’ as the basis of a work for voices and band. How to be in this time of Climate and Ecological Emergency…….that’s what’s on my back I guess. Bandwagon is on the tip of my tongue as a new band idea!

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Catching Up With… Roxana Vilk

Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.

Sophie Wales catches up with Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.  

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz? 

I grew up in Tehran, Iran, surrounded by lots of family. I lived with my siblings, parents, grandparents and my great grandmother all in one flat! We all loved dancing; most Iranians, generally love to sing, and dance. ALL THE TIME.

My Iranian grandfather Baba jun, LOVED music. He had a shiny record player and I have wonderful memories of dancing around to jazz records he would play. It was an incredibly inspiring time musically for jazz in Iran in the late 70’s, as musicians and bands were mixing eastern instruments and scales with western jazz motifs and creating crazily original sounds. True experimentation.

Pre-Revolution and pre-Iran/Iraq war it felt like anything was possible. Everything changed for the music scene after the 1979 Iranian Revolution of course, but that is another story…

Name a track you wish you’d written.

That is such a hard question, as I don’t wish to have written anyone else’s track really. I believe that inspiration for songs and ideas go to who it’s meant to go; I have a spiritual take on it…

But, in terms of how a track makes people feel it’s got be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Mustt Mustt’ (recorded at Real World in 1990). He starts off deep and low in his voice, getting you into the Qawwali hypnotic rhythms and then his voice opens up  and soars to the high notes, right up to the sky, the moon and the stars, and he takes you to that place of true magic. What a gift he had.

Who have you been listening to recently?

SO much! I’ve been getting really into switching off my phone and listening to the whole album by an artist, playing both sides of the vinyl and really immersing myself in the sound and storytelling of the album form.

The albums I have been getting into recently are ‘Chicago Waves’ by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on the incredible International Anthem label; Melody Gardot’s ‘Currency of Man’; ‘Thunderbird’ Cassandra Wilson; Yussef Kamaal ‘Black Focus’; Anouar Brahem ‘Barzakh’…I could go on.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

It was recently: our friends Dubioza Kolektiv when they played Bristol at The Fleece in February just before lockdown. Their live shows are insane! Their energy on stage is so infectious that the audience goes wild. Plus they use humour and wit in such a great way.

We know some of the band from just after the war finished in Bosnia. We were all working, playing music together and hanging out in Mostar and Sarajevo when we lived there. To see how far they have come since those tough post-war times, and how dedicated they are to their music journey is TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. I love them.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

YES!!! ACT4music jazz concerts set up during lockdown by the brilliant music genius Anthony Tidd, (bass player and producer with Steve Coleman and The Roots).

ACT4Music is an artist-centric organisation, dedicated to the furthering of creative music and the uplift of the many musicians who contribute to this community.

We were lucky enough to play a gig for the festival curated by Eugene Skeef. There are literally hundreds of jazz concerts you can listen to through their website that showcase and celebrate jazz music from all over the world.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

There is no doubt about it, this is a really tough time for all of us in our community.

I remember right at the beginning of lockdown, when everything came to a grinding halt, I applied to the Musicians Union hardship fund. When I got the email saying my application had been successful, I burst into tears.

It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and there was a union and support system. Even though the fund wasn’t a huge amount, it was the fact that there was a union, and other organisations like Help Musicians and Jazz South there that I could reach out to and talk to.

My advice would be don’t suffer alone, even though most of us creatives are probably introverts at heart and crave the quiet time to be creative. This is also a vital time to reach out, join a union, talk to other musicians, create a dialogue and talk to loved ones about how you are really feeling. We will get through this together.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! I write music with my partner – drummer, guitarist and producer Peter Vilk, and together we have a new Vilk Collective album coming out in early 2021!!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Get playing live gigs again and go dancing!

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 21st October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Ruth Hammond

Performer, composer, improviser, and educator Ruth Hammond.

Sophie Wales catches up with Ruth Hammond, performer, composer, improviser, and educator, who is based in Bristol. 

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first encounter with jazz?

Jazz was played at home when I was very young – Night Train, Ella and Basie, Stan Getz with the Oscar Peterson Trio. I ended up stealing the CDs and listening to them on rotation, singing along to all the solos.

I was really lucky to have a thriving youth music service in our area when I was growing up; it was a massive part of my life and I played tenor sax in the big band. From there, I got invited to play in some of the other big bands in the area, the average age of the players was around mid sixties, with me maybe at 14. I was playing with some fantastic older pro players, who I was lucky to be around….

Also, from that age I was travelling up to the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama every weekend. It was there that I first got some tuition from top jazz players like Tim Garland and Matt Wates. I started hopping on the tube to Kings Cross for rehearsals with the junior NYJO band and it all grew from there.

Name a track that you wish you’d written.

That’s really hard to answer. In terms of a song that I feel a real kinship with, perhaps I’d say ‘Touch her soft lips and part’. I think William Walton composed it for strings, but I first heard an arrangement of it on a Peter Erskine album called ‘Sweet Soul’,  and then again on ‘As It Us’, a John Taylor trio album. It’s a heart stretching piece of music for me.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I found that I stopped playing or listening to music for quite a while during early lockdown. Then I sorted myself out, got a decent pair of headphones and have been tramping through the woods listening to all sorts…. Jazzwise, lots of sax players lately. Tim Garland in his trio with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis, Joshua Redman, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Josephine Davies’ trio Satori and the Tori Freestone trio. I’m getting into the pared down trio sound.  In the last few weeks,  I’ve been listening to Tim Garland’s ‘Refocus’, a new orchestral tribute to the Stan Getz ‘Focus’ album.

I’m also loving discovering new music through shared playlists that friends and other musicians are putting up on Facebook and Instagram…. so much music, so little time!

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why? 

Agh too hard! Anything involving Larry Goldings has to be right up there, he’s pretty much my favourite musician on the planet. He’s been to the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in recent years and I’ve seen him at Ronnie Scott’s a few times too.

Honourable mention would have to go to a couple of others ….. at the age of 11, I got the chance to see Michael Jackson at Milton Keynes Bowl and then a few weeks later, the London Community Gospel Choir. Both gigs have really stuck in my memory – I vividly remember how they blew my tiny little mind!

And I also have to mention seeing Oscar Peterson at Birmingham Symphony Hall, it was towards the end of his touring years, I felt pretty emotional just to be in the same room as a true jazz legend that I’d listened to all my life.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Tiny Desk home concerts, the Ronnie’s livestreams, Liane Carroll’s regular Facebook lives have been brilliant. In Bristol, we’ve had great support from some of the live venues. For a lot of lockdown, the Bristol Fringe put on live-streams almost daily. I took part early on in lockdown.  It was a lovely feeling of connection at such a weird time. I’ve loved seeing friends doing their thing online.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adapting to the current situation and the new normal?

I’m figuring it out daily along with everyone else!! All I can say is what I’ve been doing to help me stay positive when things are in such a state of flux, not just as a musician but as a human…. taking care of my mental and physical health, staying connected to people I love, keeping an open mind on ways to use my skills to earn money, within music or otherwise (I’ve upped my teaching a lot, brushed up my tech knowledge for teaching and recording, smartened up my website and I’ve been seeking out new commissions and funding).

I’m also trying not to worry when I feel like others are being incredibly productive and I’m not…… Just trying to focus on what I can do each day to adapt.

Have you been writing any new material during lockdown? 

I’m just putting my own originals trio together, with multi-instrumentalists Nick Dover and Scott Hammond. It’s a vocally led project – so I’m getting my head around writing lyrics again, it’s been a while!

What are your post lockdown plans?

I’m looking forward to writing some new tunes with guitarist Matt Hopkins and drummer Scott Hammond, for our organ trio, the Hopkins Hammond Trio. We played a gig at Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago, our first gig since February. It fired us up and we’re aiming to get a little more original material written and to record our first album soon.

I’m involved in a project commissioned by Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival – a celebration of female composers called ‘What she said’. We were due to launch it last March at St George’s Bristol and tour it this October. I’m so looking forward to being involved in that again and performing with a fantastic group of musicians, including Rebecca Nash, Katya Gorrie, Sara Colman and Tammy Payne.

I’m also looking forward to getting started with the new trio.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 14th October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Jazz South Breakthrough Commissions – 4 Composers Announced

Breakthrough Commissions - 4 composers announced

We are delighted to announce an exciting and diverse line-up of four early career composers from across the Jazz South region who have been selected for Jazz South Breakthrough Commissions.

Each composer will create a new piece for digital broadcast from a venue in the Jazz South region in early 2021 and will be offered a package of mentoring to support the delivery of the commission.

A panel from the jazz industry, including representation from artists, educators, producers and promoters selected the composers based on innovation, ambition, and the artistic aspiration of each commission. Open to early career composers in jazz and improvisation, there was a strong response to the scheme with proposals for new music. The final selection represents a range of rising talent from across the South.

Kevin Appleby, Strategic Lead for Jazz South said:

“Jazz South Breakthrough Commissions is an opportunity to support early career jazz composers at an exciting stage of their creative and professional development, with what may be their first commission. We are thrilled to work with these talented artists from the South, to support them in realising and profiling their commission concepts to audiences, as well as offering them the opportunity to gain input and widen their networks with mentors from the profession.”

The 4 composers are:

Tim Davies (Oxfordshire)
Drummer, synthesist and recording engineer Tim Davies will create a composition for modular synthesier and jazz ensemble, consisting drums, keys, guitar, bass, and tenor saxophone.

Lucinda Fosker (Berkshire)
“Beautiful voice, her original material is distinctive and stylish” (Sara Colman) – Reading-based jazz vocalist and composer Lucinda Fosker will write new music inspired by the River Thames, telling a musical story of a stretch between Cookham and Henley-on-Thames.

Roella Oloro (Gloucestershire)
Gloucester-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and student of Berklee College of Music, Roella Oloro, will explore the concept of a perfumer mixing a new scent in music.

Asha Parkinson (Kent)
An accomplished saxophonist and arranger, Asha Parkinson will devise an extended piece for large ensemble integrating contemporary jazz and Arabic musical cultures.

The four artists are delighted to begin work on their original compositions. These will be digitally broadcast in early 2021, with more details to be announced later this autumn.

Breakthrough Commissions is part of a wider Jazz South programme offering over £30,000 towards commission projects for artists working in jazz and improvisation in the Jazz South region, outside of London.

Catching Up With… Steve Banks

Guitarist, composer, and educator Steve Banks.

Sophie Wales catches up with guitarist, composer, and educator Steve Banks, who is based in Bristol. 

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz? 

As a teenager I bought ‘Kind of Blue’ from my very small local Virgin music store and listened on repeat until I could sing all the solos! I had a brilliant guitar teacher who explained harmony and introduced me to improvising guitarists including Scott Henderson and Wes Montgomery.

I also went to summer schools at Leeds College of Music where I met and played with jazz musicians for the first time, which was incredible.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

That’s tough. I’d say ‘Endless Stars’ by Fred Hersch, it’s beautifully conceived in so many ways. Fred is such an inspiration to me as a composer.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Quite a lot! Walter Smith III ‘Twio’ and John Scofield ‘Combo 66’ for the lyricism, groove, and ensemble interplay. These bands are so free in their improvisations and constantly taking risks, creating an honesty, focus, and excitement in the music, which is inspiring for me as it reflects what I’m aiming for myself.

Maria Schneider ‘Data Lords’ was released recently. I’m a big fan of the rich harmonies, melodies and arrangements of Maria’s music, alongside her approach to creating music and the music industry. Oh, and plenty of Charlie Parker . . .

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Another tough one! John Scofield Trio with Larry Goldings and Greg Hutchinson at Colston Hall as part of Bristol Jazz Festival could be it . . . I think we’re really lucky in Bristol to have Fringe Jazz run by Jon Taylor. I’ve seen some incredible music there including bands led by Jason Rebello, Iain Ballamy and Andrew Bain.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Local musicians including Jason Rebello, Huw Warren and Iain Ballamy are streaming concerts. It’s worth investigating jazz festivals and venues across the UK as many are promoting concert series. Patreon sites including NQ Jazz have plenty of music on offer.

Sara Colman and I performed a duo concert as part of Around The Houses online festival which presents an impressive list of artist performances and raises money for Help Musicians charity.

You can also tune in to major US and European venues. . . a good place to start is investigating favourite artists via websites and social media to see what they’re up to as many are also doing their own thing alongside offering tuition and a window into their creative process.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

Creating, collaborating and connecting through online performances can offer new ways for musicians to develop their careers. This can be through live streaming or pre-recorded concerts, perhaps offering a Q&A option to connect with the audience, online lessons and courses, etc.

Musicians now have a potentially unlimited audience and can play with, participate with and learn from musicians online in ways that were far less available pre-lockdown. The world has become much better connected and musicians, venues and organisations are supporting one another as they share common experiences. There is an opportunity for us all to find out how we can take part.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I’m always trying to become more fluent through practicing, as a player, composer and educator. I’ve developed some great new resources for private students, which has been fun.

I’ve been working on music for a new trio with Will Harris and Andrew Bain alongside plans for my regular quintet with Rebecca Nash, Nick Dover, Jules Jackson and Mark Whitlam.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’m planning an exciting collaboration with my quintet and Chris Lucas, a local videographer/artist involving recording a suite of new music with live video, images and animation for 2021 release. I’m also looking forward to playing Greg Cordez’s new music from his upcoming album recorded with a band of stellar US musicians.

The Sara Colman Band (sextet + string quartet) will be releasing music celebrating Joni Mitchell, which was recorded at Real World Studios pre-lockdown. It sounds incredible and live-streamed performances are currently being planned. It will be wonderful to be on stage again amongst those sounds . . .

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 7th October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Pete Cunningham

Pete Cunningham, DJ, multi-Instrumentalist, and leader of the Ishmael Ensemble.

Sophie Wales catches up with Pete Cunningham, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and leader of the Ishmael Ensemble who is based in Bristol.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

My Grandad had a great record collection from the classics of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, to more obscure (to my young ears) stuff on ECM like Don Cherry & Art Ensemble of Chicago. My parents also used to take me to the Nunney Jazz Cafe sessions in Somerset hosted by Pee Wee Ellis. Watching him play certainly ignited my love for the saxophone.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

I think Talking Heads: ‘Once in a Lifetime’. I’d love to choose something more esoteric but i think there’s a lot to be learnt from perfectly executed pop music. This era of Talking Heads is my favourite, probably due to Brian Eno’s production.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Lots of stuff! It took me a while to feel inspired to listen to anything new at the beginning of lockdown but I have since been on a bit of a binge. SAULT are, in my opinion, making some of the most important music in the UK right now, they’ve released four incredible albums in less than two years. I’ve also been a bit obsessed with Lankum (‘The Livelong Day‘ blew my socks off) and the wider Irish scene including the ‘Make Me An Island‘ podcast.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

That feels almost impossible to answer, however, every time I leave a Sun Ra Arkestra gig I have the biggest grin on my face, it really is a life affirming experience. I’ve seen them twice now at Fiddler’s in Bristol, the venue is like a bizarre old football team’s club house which certainly adds to the surreal experience of seeing 96 year old Marshall Allen on stage in all his shiny regalia blowing into a synthesizer.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Hmmm I haven’t watched loads if I’m honest, however, I’ve enjoyed Ríoghnach Connolly’s Facebook streams after discovering her through Alabaster dePlume. I’ve also enjoyed some of NPR’s Tiny Desk at home concerts, in particular Lianne La Havas and Little Dragon.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

I guess just try and be open to the idea of a very different future. In some ways I think this is perhaps easier the earlier in your career you are. I think it’s a dangerous and unhealthy perspective to try and claw things back to where they were last year.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! We’ve very nearly finished our second album which will hopefully be out early next year!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

The Ishmael Ensemble stage show is quite a big technical endeavour so it’s not really in our nature to do pop-up or jammed gigs as some bands have been doing. We’ve been rehearsing when possible and will be ready to play when the time’s right, however, I’m trying to remain patient. Who knows what the future holds…

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 30th September. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.